Todd McFarlane on 'Venom' Success and the Long Road to His 'Spawn' Movie

The comic book creator offers an update on his Image Comics property's big-screen future.
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Todd McFarlane

In a year that saw eight comic book movies hit the big screen, there were plenty of surprises. Among the biggest was just how successful Venom turned out to be. The film, starring Tom Hardy, was plagued by mixed reactions to its trailers and then dogged by terrible reviews. Yet the film struck a chord with moviegoers, who propelled it to a monster $854 million globally.

Comic book writer and artist Todd McFarlane, who co-created Venom 30 years ago, is hoping that success can now give a boost to his directorial debut Spawn, which is set up at Blumhouse with Jamie Foxx and Jeremy Renner attached. When McFarlane recently met up with The Hollywood Reporter timed to Venom now being available on 4K, Blu-ray and digital, he noted that he was still in the process of putting the financing together, but he's confident if done right the film could be a hit.

Read the conversation below, where he also talks about the origins of the character, his approach to Venom’s design.  

When first introduced, the appeal of Venom seemed to be that he was the bully that got all the powers of Spider-Man; but here we have a Venom movie without Spider-Man in it. What do you see as the kernel of appeal that links all of these Venom properties together?

When David Michelinie and I created him, he was a villain. I made him a giant guy who could be super imposing to Spider-Man. When they fought there would be a physicality that was impossible to beat and they would have to come up with some interesting ways to defeat him. Venom, at that point, didn’t care about breaking the rules, didn’t care about playing by whatever social norms were going to be there.

I think it sort of made him cool. In some way Doctor Doom, Magneto and the Joker are cool to us because even though we are rooting for the hero, we are interested in these bad guys who are so formidable. You take that kind of character and you start getting into the iterations of it, and you start going, “Hey, what would happen if you made him good? What would happen if you made him half-good? If you made him three-quarters good?”

They tried all these versions of him, both physically and emotionally and now he’s sitting in this big box that we in comics call “the anti-hero.” There are lots of characters like Spawn I’d put in that same box, too. 

Has the film reawakened in you any desire to draw these Marvel characters again in an official way?

If you are asking Todd McFarlane the artist, of course. Ask the editors. Every time there is a new editor at Marvel they phone, “Oh, hey Todd. We’d like to do a cover.” And it’s like, “Yes, says Todd the artist. Comma. The problem is that I’m also the President of Image Comics.”

Which, besides being the third biggest comic book company, is also the direct competitor to Marvel and DC. So, I can’t in good conscience do that. Since we started Image in 1992 I haven’t drawn a page for either Marvel or DC. I’m the only one of the founders of Image that can say that, but I just can’t as a president of one company do it for a direct competitor. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Now, if you are asking me if you could do Spawn/Venom, OK. That’s a different story now. That’s different than saying “Could we do a Venom cover?” So could I do Spawn/Batman? We did. So could I do Spawn/Spider-Man? Of course. Could we do Spawn/Venom? It’d be cool. But to just do those characters singular and me give them the artwork, I can’t. I can’t cross that road.

So Marvel gave you your own Spider-Man series to write and draw yourself back in 1990. Do you have any stories from that series that you would like to see adapted on the big screen?

If you actually look at what was happening in that book, almost every issue, minus the last one, was just a monster story. The first story had the Lizard in it, who to me is a creature. The second story had Wendigo in it, a monster. The third one had Morbius in it and I think between there was the Hobgoblin, another monster. Everything was monsters. Then my last issue was the X-Factor because I think they said we want you to do a crossover. So that was dictated by the company but doing something cool and dark and creepy, that’s where my mentality is.

Talking monsters and heroes, Spawn: The Movie, what’s the status on that?

Putting the financing together and trying to convince the city that you can go into various corners of superhero movies genres. Venom is a perfect example, that you can take an “anti-hero character” who was originally created as a villain and make them this sort of do-gooder. Even though he doesn’t play by the rules, you can make a billion dollars. I’m asking them, what’s the movie, whether it’s Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy or Suicide Squad or The Joker,... Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil…which one is it that’s failing?

None. So that’s what I’m trying to tell Hollywood. Why is Spawn going into a dark corner that doesn’t follow the norms? Why is that one going to be the odd fit that’s not going to swim upstream? Of course it will. If we keep the budget small, of course it will sell, and now we get to say, “From the co-creator of Venom” on top of it. Cool.